GREENFIELD — The Hancock County Council provided emergency funding Wednesday to pay for an officer to oversee what is expected to be an influx of defendants who will be housed locally starting July 1.
The council’s decision to provide up to $35,000 to cover the field officer’s salary through the end of the year came on the heels of an impassioned request last month from Pat Powers, director of Hancock County Community Corrections.
Community Corrections houses lower-level offenders through its work-release program and also oversees those who are sentenced to home detention. Starting July 1, however, the already-crowded facility could be pushed to the limit.
An overhaul of the criminal code will make fewer offenders eligible to be sent to state prisons. Instead, they’ll have to be housed locally, and Powers argued that the change will require more staff to keep tabs on offenders serving their sentences.
Powers got the unofficial nod to hire a new officer last week from the council’s budget committee, which makes recommendations to the county council.
The field officer position must now be advertised, and Powers said Wednesday he hopes to fill the spot by mid-July.
“They’re budgeting enough to finish this year,” he said. “It’ll help for the time being.”
Powers said the only way for the county to prepare to house more defendants locally is to move work-release offenders to an expanded electronic-monitoring program.
Powers plans to return to the council during the upcoming 2015 budget hearings to request additional funding for the new officer’s salary.
The council has historically been reluctant to honor requests for new law enforcement officers, citing budgetary concerns, and Powers’ presentation to the council in May caught members by surprise.
But fear that unsupervised offenders could put the community in danger prompted quick action. At the budget committee meeting last week, Council President Bill Bolander said the county could be held liable if offenders committed additional crimes while they were left without proper supervision.
The council said Wednesday that funding for the position will be split between the local-option income tax public safety fund and the county’s rainy-day fund.
Powers secured a vehicle for the officer from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, which has agreed to provide a Ford Crown Victoria for the officer’s use.
Jim Mayfield of the Daily Reporter staff contributed to this story.